Hamilton, ON- With the U SPORTS men’s basketball Final 8 tipping off on Mar. 10, there is a strong contingent from the OUA. The Ottawa Gee-Gees, Carleton Ravens and Queen’s Gaels are ranked second, third and fifth in the tournament.
“We feel like we play in certainly the toughest division in Canada [with Ottawa and Carleton],” Queen’s Gaels head coach Steph Barrie said. “We’ve certainly been tested throughout the year and hopefully that comes into play this weekend.”
The Gee-Gees, Ravens and Gaels have all been nationally ranked throughout the season. They faced each other on the path to the OUA title – Carleton beating Queen’s before losing to Ottawa. Now they will potentially face off in Halifax for national glory.
2. Ottawa Gee-Gees (OUA Champion) (28-9)
It’s been a very long time between Wilson Cup victories for the Gee-Gees, according to head coach James Derouin. Ottawa won their first OUA title since 2014 but it took a few nail-biters to get there. They edged out TMU and Windsor at home before a hot shooting performance on the road against Carleton propelled them to victory.
Ottawa has depth and experience with four-year forward Guillaume Pepin leading the way. Pepin scored 19 points in the OUA finals against Carleton and was aided by Humber College transfer Kevin Otoo, guards Dragan Stajic and Cole Newton and rookie guard Jacques-Melaine Guemata.
The Gee-Gees are first in net efficiency in the OUA and second in offensive efficiency. They also attempt the most threes of any team in the conference. Perhaps this is the year they break through and win their first national championship.
Derouin said this year’s group is special and a great bunch of guys. “They work really hard. They defend. They play together,” he noted. “We sort of lack that maybe big name superstar that some of the other teams have this year but it’s a thrill to coach them and we’re looking forward to the weekend.”
3. Carleton Ravens (OUA Finalist) (25-9)
Carleton head coach Taffe Charles knows his team’s history with Halifax. They’ve won several national titles in the city and Charles has done so as an assistant coach back in the mid-2000’s. “Halifax has been a big special place for us to be honest with you,” he said.
Charles – now in his third season as Carleton’s men’s head coach – also knows how difficult it is to do so. He’s won it once as the women’s head coach and twice as the men’s. “Coming to a national championship, being at a national championship, it’s actually pretty difficult,” he said. “It’s a pretty difficult feat and sometimes even us getting there, it’s not easy.”
Such was the case this year. The Ravens have gone through quite a bit of roster turnover since their previous national title. They’ve been led by veterans Aiden Warnholtz, Grant Shephard, Connor Vreeken and Elliot Bailey while guard Marjok Okado earned a spot on the OUA All-Rookie Team.
The team lost back-to-back games against Toronto and TMU earlier this winter before reeling off nine straight wins to reach the OUA finals. They avenged their OUA semi-finals loss to Queen’s from a year earlier by beating them this year. Now, they’re back in a familiar spot, in a familiar place.
“Hopefully we can play better than we did on Saturday and not get blown out by 900 points but we’ll see what we can do,” Charles said.
5. Queen’s Gaels (At-Large berth) (26-6)
Over 20 years ago, Steph Barrie played at nationals in Halifax as a Western Mustangs guard. He called it very very great memories. “Those guys that I played with, we’re still in touch and I’ve gotten a few messages from the guys this week saying enjoy the moment,” he said.
Under Barrie’s helm as a coach, the Gaels have steadily built up to this moment over the past decade. They’ve reached the OUA playoffs consistently. They’ve knocked off Carleton in 2022 and reached nationals for the first-time ever – coming one win away from bronze.
Now, they’ve back with the At-large berth and will be facing the host and AUS champion St. Fx X-Men in the quarterfinals. “We’re aware that we’re getting a second opportunity that we feel very fortunate to get and our plan is certainly to try and make the most of it,” Barrie said.
That previous battle-tested experience against Ottawa and Carleton could come in handy at this stage. Their previous nationals experience could as well. Almost all of Queen’s top players were at nationals last year (guard Connor Kelly transferred from Bishop’s). Brothers Cole and Luka Syllas were both named OUA All-Stars. Barrie was named OUA Coach of the Year.
During Barrie’s time as player and coach, his teams have reached the semi-finals but not beyond. Could this be the year that changes?
6. UQAM Citadins (RSEQ Champion) (17-12)
The UQAM Citadins are making their first Final 8 appearance since 2010. It’s their first appearance under head coach Mario Joseph. The Montreal native reached nationals twice with Brandon before finishing his playing career at UQAM. They are facing the defending champion Ravens in the quarterfinals. He said they are “probably the underdog.”
“We strive on defence right now,” he added. The Citadins average 10.10 steals overall this season. They score in transition and have the players to do so.
Former Ottawa Gee-Gees guards Kevin Civil and Ellie Karojo lead the backcourt along with Bahaide Haidara. Centres Alix Lochard (RSEQ All-Star) and Cheick Dosso and forward Karl-Tommy Laforest (RSEQ All-Rookie Team) anchor the front line.
Joseph – who won RSEQ Coach of the Year – also pointed out how there’s a lot of hometown guys who’ve come back. The team features 13 Montreal players – including transfers Samuel Cayo, Civil, Haidara and Karojo. Now, those players and their team have won an RSEQ title. Now, they will have their opportunity on a national stage.
With Files from Thomas Scott
Featured Image: Greg Kolz/University of Ottawa Athletics